The time from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve is my favorite time of year. My husband and I have been watching Christmas movies each evening via Netflix. Are there certain movies your family watches each year at this time?
For this Christmas post, I thought I’d take you on a trip through the earliest holiday movies.
First Christmas Movie Made
I was surprised that the first Christmas movie was made in 1898 by George Albert Smith. This is a vignette only a few minutes long. Also, this is the first appearance of Santa Claus in film. He looks nothing like the Santa shown now.
Can you visualize how excited people were to see this movie? I wonder if the movie was shown in an auditorium or tent. In addition, I wonder how much the tickets were, don’t you?
Scrooge or Marley’s Ghost was made in 1901. At least half of the film has been lost, but enough remains that one gets a sense of what the entire movie was like. This is the oldest known film adaptation of Charles Dickens' 1843 novel A Christmas Carol. It was shown to King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at Sandringham House in December 1901 in a Royal Command Performance.
The Parish Priest’s Christmas
Shining with simple faith, this work by Alice Guy, the world’s first woman director, captures a more pious side of Christmas in 1906.
A local priest attempts to buy a statue to complete the crèche, or Nativity scene, in his church. Unfortunately, the priest and his humble flock lack the funds to purchase even the smallest stand-in for baby Jesus. At mass, beautiful angels appear and reward the congregation’s devotion by bestowing an effigy of Jesus to fill the cradle.
In The Parish Priest’s Christmas, Alice Guy deploys special effects for maximum dramatic impact. The film’s deliberate pace and the naturalistic interactions between characters draw the audience into the priest’s dilemma. The special effect of the heavenly angels is achieved through hidden cuts
The Night Before Christmas
Edwin S. Porter, a pioneer of narrative logic in cinema and director of The Great Train Robbery (1903), evokes the snowbound wonder of Clement Clarke Moore’s beloved poem in 1905. And, as in The Great Train Robbery, Porter ends the film with a fourth-wall-breaking shot (not unusual in early movies) as Santa Claus acknowledges the spectators and wishes them a merry Christmas.
The Night Before Christmas involved a herd of apparently real reindeer, as well as a model version to show their “flight” from the North Pole. You can see the iconography of Christmas as we know it today—the jolly red suit, the list that Santa’s checking twice, and the magical sleigh. Intertitles with verses lifted straight from Moore’s poem contribute to the film’s charm.
A Christmas Accident
You may remember how much The Grinch was changed by Christmas. In the same tradition comes a short, sweet movie from Edison Studios in 1912. A Christmas Accident provides a glimpse into the holiday celebrations of ordinary, working-class people shortly after the turn of the century.
Prosperous, crotchety Mr. Gilton and his long-suffering wife live right next door to the harmonious Bilton family. After months of enduring their neighbor’s bad temper, the Biltons are settling down for their modest Christmas Eve festivities.
“Santa Claus is poor this year,” says Mr. Bilton, explaining to his children why they’re not getting a turkey. But what to their wondering eyes should appear? Why, Mr. Gilton, blown by a snowstorm right into their home—with a turkey under his arm.
The Adventures of the Wrong Santa
In 1914, a comical amateur sleuth named Octavius bumbled through a series of short one-reel films produced by Thomas Edison. In the final series installment, the hapless hero shows up at a party to dress as Santa for his friend’s children. Holiday mayhem ensues.
No sooner does Octavius don the bushy white beard and red suit than he gets conked on the noggin by a burglar. Dressed up in a different Santa suit, the villain steals the children’s gifts from under the tree and flees with Octavius in pursuit.
All this merely serves as an excuse to show two men in Santa costumes chasing after each other and brawling. I suppose this is an historic Die Hard. Fortunately, as the intertitles tell us, “Octavius never fails.” The detective ends up returning the Christmas presents and gets to canoodle behind a curtain with a pretty girl.
Excluding the two battling Santas, this movie documents the customs of a middle class Christmas on the brink of WWI.
Those above are old films, some of which have been restored. As for my family, our favorites are The Muppets’ Christmas Carol (which is amazingly faithful to the book), the original Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas in Connecticut, and Christmas Story. I can’t fail to mention classics like White Christmas, Elf, It’s A Wonderful Life, Die Hard, Home Alone, The Holiday, and The Santa Clause. Actually, there are too many Christmas films to list here.
What are your family’s favorite Christmas movies?
The Lobby Post, John Hess
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Moriah travels from England hoping to find a job in a shop where she can save to send for her sister. After an unsettling encounter with the owner of the shirt factory in which she works, she becomes a mail-order bride. Scott Ferguson owns the mercantile in Pearson Grove, Texas. He needs a wife to help in his store, cook, clean, and be a true helpmate. Marriage brings more than either had expected, including a bank robbery and Moriah's rescue of a woman from a burning home.
Thanks for such an informative post. While the little Dutch girl refugee scene in the original Miracle on 34th Street always brings a tear to my eye, my absolutely favorite Christmas movie is The Bishop's Wife with Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. One of my favorite scenes is when the angel, Dudley, tells how David composed Psalm 23.ReplyDelete
How fun to take a look back at the beginnings of the Christmas films. Thank you. DorisReplyDelete
What a delightful treat! I had to watch all the silent movies and was impressed by the detail and beauty in the sets. The acting was impressive, especially by several of the children. My favorite Christmas movies have already been listed but I always enjoy The Sound of Music at any time of the year.ReplyDelete
I have my standards that I watch over and over during the holiday season: A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart, White Christmas, While You were Sleeping, Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Scrooged, Love Actually... But my favorite is Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. (Yes, I have a unique taste in Christmas-setting movies).ReplyDelete